Preservation of a leaf


The Bodleian Oath taken by all readers is: “I hereby undertake not to remove from the Library, nor to mark, deface, or injure in any way, any volume, document or other object belonging to it or in its custody; not to bring into the Library, or kindle therein, any fire or flame, and not to smoke in the Library; and I promise to obey all rules of the Library.”

Not long ago Robyn Adams renewed this oath in time to spend the month of June in the Bodleian Library, as the Humfrey Wanley research fellow. She’s investigating early donations to the library, which opened to scholars in 1602. The library’s foundation collections, rich in scientific and philological works, owed much to the friends and extensive network of acquaintances built up by the library’s founder, Thomas Bodley (1545–1613).

In her second week of study, Adams discovered an important clue to how the library’s earliest readers used these books. Turning the pages of one of the first books given to the library, Adams found a leaf of plantain (plantago major) pressed between the pages. A note with the leaf indicates that it was taken from the garden of a Mr Crowe, in Dublin, in 1626. Somehow the leaf made its way to the Bodleian where a reader consulted this book to confirm the identification. It could be argued that a still anonymous 17th-century reader was enhancing, rather than injuring, the volume, because it was found in a book describing medicinal herbs, at the page illustrating plantago major.

Mindful of her own promise, Adams alerted the reading room staff without removing the leaf. At 384 years old, it is closer in age to the book itself than to our day, and will return to its resting place between the pages after being encapsulated in non-reactive plastic by the Conservation section.

Tribulations of academic book publishing — in the 16th century (the Lyell lectures 2010)

Professor Ian Maclean delivered the Lyell Lectures in Bibliography for 2010, under the title ‘Scholarship, commerce, religion: the learned book in the Age of Confessions, 1560-1630. ‘

In taking us through the operations of the market in learned books, one that faced transformation in the 16th and 17th centuries, as it does now, Professor Maclean examined the relationship between learning and the hard, sometimes grubby, mechanisms for giving communication a material form.

The personalities of patrons, publishers, authors and agents, introduced in the active if not very admirable figure of Melchor Goldast von Haiminsfeld (1578-1635), emerged throughout these lectures, each holding particular religious convictions, personal ambitions and business rivalries.

Goldast, for one, was not above using deception to promote publications, a theme which resonates today as scientific publishers feel the tensions of scholarly peer review, patronage (now from industries) and struggles for priority.

Religious divisions were interposed between learned books and readers. These were often expressed in censorship imposed before or after publication. Ensuring that a book reached publication required courtly skills of diplomacy as well as business sense.

Meanwhile the shifting of economic power within Europe unsettled traditional markets and opened new ones, requiring new practices in promotion and retailing.

Gillian Bepler: ‘Dynastic women’s libraries in early modern Germany’

On 12 March 2010, the Seminar on History of the Book heard about “Dynastic women and their libraries in early modern Germany,” from Gillian Bepler, of the Herzog August Bibliothek, Wolfenbüttel.

A cast of strong women, some of them learned and some politically powerful, populated Dr Bepler’s talk. These included Eleonora Catherine von Hesse-Eschweger (1626-1692) who served as regent of her husband’s German lands after his death in 1655. She built up a library of juridical, historical, and geographical works to support her in these duties.

Documents containing the details of women’s libraries were generated by momentous events in women’s lives. Marriage or death would require an inventory of property, of course. But other events might draw attention to a woman’s personal property, and especially to reading matter. Anna of Orange, Princess of Saxony (1544-1577), had an evidently unhappy marriage with William I of Orange. When she bore a child by Jan Rubens, father of the painter, William sent her away from court. Her books were seized and inspected. Were the French romances, such as Amadis de Gaul, discovered in her library, evidence that novels aroused improper emotions in women?

Anna Sophia of Brandenburg (1598-1659), married to the Duke of Brunswick-Lüneberg, fled from her husband’s home under the pretext of a visit to her family when her liaison with an army officer was about to be exposed. Books being too bulky to carry without arousing suspicion, these had to be left behind. The Duke ordered her apartments sealed and a room inventory was made, which had the benefit for historians of noting where Anna Sophia kept her books, recording such details as the devotional works kept in a writing desk. What a library today would call a shelflist is able to evoke the picture of an early-modern woman keeping her own private spiritual diary.

A key point of law obtaining in some German states was the concept of “Gerade”, property belonging only to the wife, and descending only to female heirs. This special status was for property considered the “woman’s realm”, such as household linen, and applied also to personal items such as jewelery. Books owned by and read by a woman came under the rules of Gerade. The difficulty of tracing some of the collections of books belonging to German dynastic women is due to the movement of these collections, through inheritance, to the homes of their female relatives. These were other dynastic women who, as Dr Bepler’s paper made clear, might be married away to homes far from their native lands.

The Seminar is convened at All Souls College each Hilary Term by Prof. Ian Maclean.
— from Alexandra Franklin